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Haunting Investigation
by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Smoke & Shadow Books, $27.99, 325pp
Published: December 2015

I am a huge fan of Ms. Yarbro’s vampire series about St. Germain. And I was so looking forward to seeing a new mystery from her. This series is based on a ghost character – one Chesterton Holte who died as a British spy during WWI. But, at the time of his capture by the Germans, he caused the unnecessary death of an American journalist. As he died with regret in his heart, he was unable to move out of limbo. His unfinished business with the living keeping him bound to this plane of existence. Until he can vanquish the guilt, he cannot move on. So four years later, he decides to haunt one of the children of the dead journalist and he picks the daughter – Poppy Thornton, an aspiring journalist herself - in order to help her and make reparations for causing her father to die.

Poppy has been going mad with boredom writing society columns and longs to be an investigative reporter. She gets an opportunity when a member of high society dies, an apparent suicide. Since Poppy’s family is high society, the newspaper editor hopes that her personal connections may gain them some insight and a good story. Poppy is perfectly willing to use her connections to get some indepth reactions from the family. What she finds, though, is evidence that it may not have been a suicide. Since all those involved are much more willing to confide in her than a lower-class newspaper reporter, her editor keeps her on the job. (The gentle reader needs to appreciate the times while reading this story. The Great War had just ended, women had just been granted suffrage but there was still a huge disparity in the classes. There were attitudes and mores of society that will seem alien to our current worldview.)

Chesterton makes himself known to Poppy who, on the whole, takes his existence with certain aplomb. Since Chesterton can move about, listening to conversations unseen, he provides a wealth of information to Poppy. He is also able to contact and communicate with the deceased; however, they aren’t often able to remember all the details of their life much less their death. Poppy, however, has to figure out how to use the information if she cannot find a more believable source to verify.

As bodies start to mount up, with hints of previous murders linked to this one, and the unwanted suspicion that Poppy develops for her cousin’s involvement, it’s all the girl can do to keep her wits about her – even with the ghost’s advice and the attentions of the investigating detective.

Ms. Yarbro has certainly captured a most singular voice for this story and Poppy; I can definitely say that I would not enjoy being an ambitious woman in the 1920s, it was hard. Both Ms. Yarbro and Poppy are quite methodical and it’s entertaining watching her work the case. Poppy is an engaging character although the secondary characters were not as developed as I would like – maybe more in the next book. But…I was unhappy with the ending. There was little resolution or even the indication that resolution might be coming in a sequel. It felt rather abrupt and unfinished. I recommend it with reservations; I’ll watch for the next book and decide more then. ~~ Catherine Book

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